Five-Star Fringe: “Echoes of Gallows Hill” by Astraeus Aerial Dance Theatre. Lyceum Theatre. Founded by a former California Ballet principal, Jennifer Curry Wingrove, Astraeus Aerial Dance Theatre made its Fringe Festival debut two years ago and picked up the Best of Fringe Award. This year, the company’s “Echoes of Gallows Hill,” is such a complete, satisfying work of art that I had to create a new category for it, “Five-Star Fringe.”
“Gallows Hill” “tells the story” of the Salem witch trials. However, unlike a number of 2017 Fringe shows I reviewed earlier, in which text and/or video delivers a didactic message, Wingrove mentions Salem—and the larger theme of marginalizing women—only in a brief program note. Onstage, she relies on the eloquence of moving bodies and impeccably chosen imagery.
Early Americana is evoked by an austerely beautiful set (designed by Derek Sander) with a wooden bench and, on either side, a fence and stalks of “wheat,” reminiscent of Martha Graham’s iconic “Appalachian Spring.” Dancer Kiona Daelyn created an atmospheric sound score, using American roots tunes like “Oh, Death” by Rising Appalachia, as well as eerie Cirque du Soleil-type music with wordless vocalizing.
Six women begin—in long skirts with aprons and white bonnets (designed by dancer Laura Dasi)—as a community. Then, one at a time, they break away from the others, shed their skirts, and find their own dances at the front of the stage, whether on silks, lyra (hoop), corde lisse (rope), trapeze, etc. Daelyn floats between two spansets as if in a private ecstasy; whereas Cecilia Marie, on a corde lisse, seems tormented by whispering voices. Whatever each woman experiences, there are black-garbed men ready to lead her away. The cast also includes Zoe Irvine and Molly Alghussain.
Master aerialists, the Astraeus artists dazzle with backbends, splits, spins, hanging by a hand or the heels, and sudden drops. Further, they are dancers—both Wingrove and Dasi had major ballet careers—and there’s an exquisite clarity to the architecture they create in the air. Wingrove also choreographs interesting moves for the dancers behind whoever is featured on an apparatus. And when, in the finale, all six climb onto silks and move in unison, it’s sublime.
The bad news is, you have just one more chance to see this show—Saturday at 4 p.m.
Fringe Find: “Hip Hop Cabhooray” by Melissa Adao. The Geoffrey Off Broadway. Hip Hop Cabhooray is so fast-moving and fun that you probably won’t think about how ridiculously difficult it is to move twenty—20!—dancers around a small stage in a way that feels natural and easy. Whether Adao is featuring four men camping it up—”We men! We sweat! We dance!”—or she’s got most of the dancers onstage, taking turns soloing in the center of a semi-circle, this show flows.
Adao calls her style hip hop and urban, and each dancer brings his/her individual signature, as well. I caught robotic isolations, on-the-floor B-boying, a touch of twerking, and one man doing that hyper-mobile shoulder thing that’s painful to watch. Speaking of pain, my one gripe is the deafeningly amplified music.
A favorite moment: Someone brings a video camera onstage, establishing that we’re watching an in-the-moment video projection on the back wall. Then most of the dancers go out the door, the camera follows, and we see them swaggering down the sidewalk on First Avenue.
Showtimes are tonight at 9 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m.